CHENNAI: Despite last-minute negotiations by the Tamil Nadu government officials, the private water tanker owners said they are determined to start their strike from Wednesday demanding release of the 25 seized water tankers. The tankers were seized by the police in the last one month on charges of illegal tapping of groundwater.
Even though the water crisis in Chennai has eased a little, many residential apartments in the city are dependent on water supply from private water tankers. If they go ahead with the strike, it could put many residents in hardship.
In the last one month, around 25 lorries have been taken into custody by police for not having license to draw groundwater. Following this, the members from the Tamil Nadu private tanker lorry association announced that all private water tankers will go on strike from Wednesday.
The association's president N Nijalingam said that they want assurance from the government that police will not hereafter seize private tankers. "The government has promised us many times that they will grant license to every single private lorry. But even after a year, no such steps have been taken yet. We also want the police to release all the seized lorries," he added.
A few months ago, when the water crisis was at its peak, private water tanker owners went on a strike for the same issue as the state government did not distribute licenses. The authorities came down hard on more private tankers after villagers in Tiruvallur complained about excessive extraction of groundwater.
The Madras High Court too has ordered the authorities to curb excessive extraction of groundwater from peripheral areas of Chennai.
Another member from the association said that all lorries have been booked under non-bailable IPC sections. "Even six days ago, two lorries were caught at Pallikaranai. The police are treating us like criminals. We are only transporting water from one place and delivering it to people in need. We cannot operate in constant fear," said the member, who didn't want to be named.
Chennai Metro Water Board executive director, T Prabhushankar said that collectors of Chennai, Kancheepuram and Tiruvallur districts and metro water officials have been talking to the members to withdraw the strike. "Tiruvallur collector had distributed 42 licenses to water tanker owners on Tuesday. Their only major demand is regarding licenses. The government will resolve this issue soon," he said.
Since only a few licenses were issued, the members refused to take it. "Close to 9,000 workers and drivers operate 4,500 water tankers in Chennai, Tiruvallur and Kancheepuram districts. How will only 42 licenses suffice? Also, the license permits us to draw water in only one designated spot. If the water dries up there, we can't draw from another spot," said Nijalingam.